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Perching here and gathering my thoughts ...

Orlando without Disney!

03 April 2009 ~ 13:26

Mark, my mum & I just got back from a lovely holiday in Orlando, Florida, and we did not go anywhere near Disney World but we had a great time anyway.

After a long flight, I got excited when I spotted an armadillo on the grass verge and we were driven to our hotel. It turned out to be the only one I saw although we saw plenty of cute grey squirrels.

The hotel was very nice, with a heated pool and a large spa. It had its own gift shop and games room where Mark & I had several games of air hockey throughout the week, which Mark won most of. He also played at shooting basket balls.

The first full day we spent sunbathing by the pool and rather stupidly I got sunburn. However the highlight of the vacation and the main reason for going was our trip to Discovery Cove the next day. It is a resort type attraction set up like a tropical paradise where one rather high fee includes everything for the day – food and drink, towels, wetsuits, sun lotion etc.

We arrived early and had our photograph taken for our ID tags, then another family photo which you get as part of the entry fee. We were shown to the lockers and issued with suncream and snorkels. Mark chose to wear a wetsuit.

After our free breakfast we headed to the ray lagoon. It contains dozens of cow nosed female rays and one loner male southern stingray. You wade in as far as you want and can pet and stroke the rays as they glide by. Every so often the rays are fed and you can choose to take some fish and feed them yourself. They suck up the food rather like a vacuum cleaner!

Discovery Cove also has a dolphin lagoon (although we had not paid the extra to interact with the dolphins), an artificial beach and loungers, a coral reef to snorkel, an aviary where you can feed tropical birds, a lazy river you can float around on, and of course gift shops. Mark had a wonderful time snorkelling the reef, and I had my photo taken feeding and petting the rays. We sunbathed on the beach opposite the dolphin lagoon and watched the dolphins playing and people having their dolphin experiences.

The whole place is wonderful, the weather was great, the lunch delicious and the tame birds in the aviary were beautiful. They also have tiny muntjac deer in there. My mum, who missed out on getting in with the rays at Stingray City on our holiday to Grand Cayman due to the sea being too choppy, enjoyed herself immensely and discovered the joy of cuddling rays!

We visited Gatorland the following day and then Seaworld. Gatorland has been open since 1949 – before a certain mouse ever set foot in Orlando! We fed the gators, watched the Jumperoo and Gator Wrestling shows, saw white gators, held a young gator, rode the Gatorland train and had our pictures taken sitting on an adult gator’s back (mouth taped up of course)! My mum declined this last activity!

Seaworld was great too. We got to feed rays again (but not get in with them) and saw manatees, sharks, polar bears, beluga whales, walruses (they are HUGE!) and dolphins. The best bit was the show ‘Pets Ahoy!’ in a theatre with dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a rat and even a skunk doing all sorts of clever things.

All in all it was a hugely enjoyable time and Mark & I are so grateful to my mum for treating us to the break. It was great to get some hot weather at a time when London is still decidedly cool!

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